Gore Vidal

02 Mar 2004 16:42

American essayist and novelist, with a few (failed) ventures into politics. I used to be quite fond of his political writings, but haven't agreed with much that I've read from him over the last, oh, five years or so. Whether I'd still agree with what I used to like, I don't know, not having revisited it. I was never very comfortable with the isolationist strand of his politics, or the sense he gives that forming a strong national government during and after the Civil War was a dreadful mistake for the Republic.

I like his historical novels much better than his science fiction: the former is skillful and inventive, but the latter is painfully obvious, yet full of its own cleverness. Vidal seems to feel that, as a Serious Novelist, he has nothing to learn from (most of) those who perpetrate genre fiction, even when he ventures there himself, with the result that, e.g., Live from Golgotha is full of the kind of howlers and cliches about time-travel that actual science fiction novelists have (largely) trained themselves out of. The only thing that makes it supportable is that Vidal is really very good at mocking Christianity. Julian, by contrast, is superb. --- On the other hand, Vidal's mystery novels are also quite good, so maybe there's something about science fiction as such that makes him regrettably sloppy.

Some of his best essays are what he nicely calls "bookchat"; he has some particularly agreeable ones about Italo Calvino, who was a friend of his.